I've discussed before how campaigns – whether elections or for single issues – only win if they control the ongoing narrative. Once any political party or campaign wanting to win votes or secure support is spending it's time talking about an issue their opponent is seen to have an advantage on then winning becomes very difficult indeed.
In the battle for the presidency of the United States in the election of 1960, John F Kennedy continually made claims about the number of missiles the USSR had compared to those held by America. Despite the fact these claims were wrong, Kennedy's opponent – and the then US Vice President – Richard Nixon refused to give the correct figures as this could have jeopardised ongoing spying flights over Soviet territory. Kennedy won the election.
So the issue is about when and how to rebut your opponents claims rather than whether to rebut at all.
Yesterday saw the start of the phoney war in the 2015 General Election with press conferences held by the Conservative and Labour Parties on the issues voters see as their strongest. For the Conservatives that means the economy and for Labour the NHS.
The Conservatives produced a document costing up all of Labour's spending commitments and concluded a Labour government would have to borrow £20bn more to balance the books. This was accompanied by a strong sound bite by my former boss, George Osborne, offering a choice for the electorate to "choose chaos or competence" on the economy.
Labour took the bait and fell into full rebuttal mode. Their sensitivity over Labour's poor economic track record leading to a shrill, over the top reaction. The result: Labour's announcement on the NHS was lost in the detail while headlines included "Ed Miliband says unfunded spending claims 'completely false'", "Labour: Spending rebuttal" and even a direct quote of Osborne's "chaos" sound bite.
This is only day one of what looks to be a long and bitter election battle. With the level of public indifference at an all-time high, landing the first blow may be significant – which Labour allowed the Conservatives to do. That's why the Labour Party is my Mis-Communicator of the Week.
Communicator of the Week is written by Ed Staite.
If you enjoyed this article, you can subscribe for free to our twice weekly event and subscriber alerts.
Currently, every new subscriber will receive three of our favourite reports about the public relations sector.